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Can economics contribute to moral life?


  • Piet Keizer

    (Utrecht School of Economics)


This paper wants to answer the following question: can economics contribute to a morally decent life? Economics as a science originates from modern moral philosophy. This discipline analyses human nature and its consequences for the way in which social order is maintained. But as economics developed from the morally embedded economic analyses of Adam Smith to the morally neutral neoclassical economics, it became increasingly independent of its moral philosophical roots. The paper shows a way out of this moral indifference. Firstly, it discusses a more realistic economic approach, in which social and psychic processes play a significant role in the shaping of interpretations of the world. Secondly, it places humans in an ecological context. Ecology is about the interrelationship between entities and their environment. In our analysis ecology is about the relationship between humans and non-humans. We can, if morally necessary, consider particular non-humans, such as animals or plants, as independent identities, having value in their own right. In this way a multidisciplinary economic analysis appears to be a more efficient map in the hands of morally motivated people. A last problem analysed by the paper is the question: how do people get morally motivated? They do if they discover which virtues of persons and organisations lead to a maximum of utilities for all and when they place themselves in situations, where moral sentiments are aroused. Then people will listen to a voice inside themselves that says: you ought to develop these virtues.

Suggested Citation

  • Piet Keizer, 2008. "Can economics contribute to moral life?," SCEME Working Papers: Advances in Economic Methodology 025/2008, SCEME.
  • Handle: RePEc:sti:wpaper:025/2008

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    ethics; economic methodology;

    JEL classification:

    • B41 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Economic Methodology

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